There will be a first-time grand slam champion at Wimbledon after Elena Rybakina powered Simona Halep off the court to set up a final against Ons Jabeur. Two first-time finalists, in fact, but there was no evidence of the relative inexperience of the 23-year-old Rybakina as she took on Halep in a brutal contest of baseline hitting on Center Court and emerged with the biggest victory of her career so far
It brings an end to Halep’s 12-match win streak at the All England Club, a run that stretches back to the 2019 title she was unable to defend last year. While it had looked this week that the former world number one was returning to that imperious form, the shocking power of Rybakina’s groundstrokes from the back of the court shattered her resurgence of her and a crisis of double faults sealed her fate of her down the stretch .
You could not have asked for a clearer contrast of semi-finals on Center Court, after Jabeur was victorious in the contest of angles, spins and slices in taking down her close friend Tatjana Maria earlier in the afternoon. There was little room for deft of touch here, as the tall and elegant Rybakina displayed crushing power on what is just her second appearance of her at SW19.
It also means that in a year where Russian players were banned from the Championships, there will be a finalist who was born in Moscow on the final weekend of the tournament. Rybakina will be flying the flag of Kazakhstan as she faces Jabeur on Saturday, following a decision to switch allegiances four years ago to accept their financial support from her. “It’s a tough question,” she said this week when asked whether she felt Kazak or Russian and while it may create a few awkward headlines for the All England Club her place of her in Saturday’s final is not up for dispute.
Halep had been close to untouchable in returning to the Wimbledon semi-finals, her confidence returning and her form restoring to the levels of dominance that peaked with her 2019 title, but in Rybakina she faced an opponent who would attack her game from the start. Halep’s second serve for her and an alarming number of double faults was illustrative of how Rybakina’s approach for her unsettled her. On the other side of the net, Rybakina’s big weapon did not cough up a single opportunity on serve down the stretch as she closed out the victory in one hour and 15 minutes.
The pressure was immediate as Rybakina brought a deep and direct approach on the returns. The opening break was brought by a driven forehand down the line, while the flat and powerful backhand from Rybakina was also finding its angles. Halep was required to produce a physical game from the baseline but Rybakina hit consecutive winners off both ends to set up the chance for double break. Halep met it with steely hitting to save two break points, but strong serving from Rybakina and impressive movement around the court meant the Romanian was not allowed any opportunities against serve.
The first set was given an emphatic stamp from Rybakina, with a forehand powered for a 12th winner of the opener and an ace down the middle. Halep pushed a backhand wide as Rybakina took the lead and the pressure on the Halep serve continued into the second. The assault from Rybakina was brought with remarkable consistency, and consecutive double faults from Halep handed another early break.
Rybakina showed only the briefest moment of tightness as the match approached the hour, with the first signs of loose hitting allowing Halep to break back. But the advantage was restored, with Ryabinka following in a backhand to control the sliced volley at the net. Halep’s issues on the second serve were escalating into a crisis and the double fault on break point was her eighth of the match.
A further double fault followed as Rybakina sensed the opportunity on the Halep serve. It brought up match point and the first-time backhand winner from Rybakina spoke of her fearless approach from her to this stage. Halep’s exit was swift but Ryabkina will be back. And, if she can reproduce this display, a first grand slam title may follow too.